Harlem Lake – Volition Live | Album Review

Harlem Lake – Volition Live

Self-produced CD


13 songs – 73 minutes

One of the most exciting bands coming out of Europe in the past decade, Netherlands-based Harlem Lake captured the European Blues Challenge in 2022 and celebrate both their victory and their re-emergence from the COVID crisis with this over-the-top serving of what they do best: delivering a healthy mix of original blues, blues-rock and well-crafted, blues-infused covers from the ‘70s.

Harlem Lake are a five-piece core unit that works in a flexible lineup that includes up to a dozen musicians and vocalists for major shows, like this one, which was captured at the Culemborg Blues & Better Get Hit Festival last summer. The group began to take root in the polder of Haarlem –the low farmland reclaimed from the North Sea — about six years ago when 16-year-old keyboard protégé Dave Warmerham joined forces with guitarist Sonny Ray Van Den Berg and Janne Timmer, a female vocalist with a powerful alto, after making a name for himself by making it to the semi-finals of the 2017 International Blues Challenge.

After working as the Dave Warmerham Band for a few months as a trio, they added drummer Rick Van de Voort and bassist Lars Hoogland and Harlem Lake was born. They opened for Walter Trout on their first show before building  a large following at major clubs and festivals across Europe and releasing a well-received live debut album, A Fool’s Paradise Vol. 1, in the process.

Sidelined by COVID-19, they disbanded and reformed with a new rhythm section — drummer Benjamin Torbijn and bassist Kjelt Ostendorf — and began expanding their sound, drawing influences from Dire Straits, Little Feat, B.B. King, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Joe Bonamassa and giving birth to new, big-band arrangements.

In addition to the five principals here, the lineup’s augmented by a horn section composed of Jazzton Hulsebosch (sax), Martin Combrink (trombone) and Bart Van Der List and Thomas Heikoop (trumpets) along with Ashley De Jong and Megan Zinschitz on backing vocals.

Mixing seven originals and six covers, the disc opens with Van Den Berg on slide to open “The River,” a cautionary, steady-driving, unhurried rocker that stresses the importance of learning from past mistakes. The horn-fueled “Beware” — a hit for Ann Peebles in 1975 – follows with a warning about another woman messing with another lady’s home with Warmerham shining on the 88s before the band delivers a six-plus minute update of jazz sax giant Lou Donaldson’s stop-time pleaser, “Whiskey Drinking Woman.”

A run of four originals begins with the powerful rocker “Deaf & Blind,” which assures a lover that everything will be all right despite the unspoken torment that’s befallen them. The mood brightens with “Guide Me Home,” which opens as a quiet ballad and slowly builds in intensity throughout, before the soulful “I Wish I Could Go Running” swings relentlessly from the hip. The set concludes with “Please Watch My Bag,” a slow-paced rocker that describes the last words of a woman until she disappears forever into the darkness of the night.

Eric Clapton’s “Got to Get Better in a Little While” opens a run of three covers that includes a reimagined reworking of O.V. Wright’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and a straightforward redo of The Box Tops’ “The Letter” before two more originals – “I Won’t Complain” and “Jack in the Box” bookend Tower of Power’s “Don’t Change Horses” to close.

A top-notch performance from beginning to end, Volition Live is definitely worth your ear. It’s available through Amazon and other online retailers or direct from the band (address above).

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